17 Bitter Foods For Cleansing

Bitter Melon © by t.ohashi

The American diet is unbalanced.  It consists of predominantly sweet and sour foods according to MAPI, the Ayurveda health center in Iowa.  As a result our bodies are unbalanced and we often feel sluggish and unwell.

Bitter foods promote a natural cleansing of the body.  By including some of the bitter taste in our diet, whether in specific foods or herbs like turmeric we are cleansing our bodies each day.

The Six Tastes For Each Body Type

Ayurveda recommends that we include all six tastes in our diets: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent. Although we need to have some of each taste for balance and to avoid cravings, each body type needs more of some tastes and less of others.

The balancing tastes for each body type are as follows:

Vata body type (thin build): sweet, sour and salty

Pitta body type (medium build): sweet, bitter and pungent

Kapha body type (heavyset build): bitter, pungent and astringent.

A healthy diet for each body type would focus primarily on foods that balance them, but ensuring that the other tastes are represented through spices and seasonings.

What Bitter Foods Do For You

Bitter foods as you can see from above are important for people with medium and heavy builds.  They are less critical for people who are thin.

So what does the bitter taste do for you? According to well known Ayurvedic doctor  Vasant Lad,

  • the bitter taste is anti-toxic. It is antibacterial and antiviral so it helps with cleansing the body
  • the bitter taste kills germs
  • the bitter taste relieves burning and itching sensations and helps with skin disorders
  • the bitter  taste reduces fever
  • the bitter taste improves the firmness of the skin and muscles
  • the bitter taste helps digestion and relieves intestinal gas.
  • the bitter taste dries the system and reduces fat, bone marrow and elimination.
The bitter taste also affects our emotional and mental state. It causes us to withdraw from worldly concerns and become more introspective and less attached. Too much bitter taste can lead to aversion and cynicism.

Bitter Food List

The following is a list of 17 bitter foods:

Jerusalem artichoke

bitter melon

burdock root

dandelion greens

eggplant

kale

sesame seeds

castor oil

sesame oil

chocolate

dill

cumin

fenugreek

neem leaves

saffron

turmeric

coffee

The Bitter Taste And HSP’s

Bitter foods are a great way to naturally cleanse the body.  However, in excess it can lead to increased isolation which HSP’s do not need.  Therefore unless you are on a weight loss diet which bitter foods can help, eating the bitter taste through herbs and spices may be most helpful.

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Why Food Is Medicine: The Secret Of The Six Tastes Of Ayurveda

Farmers

Have you ever questioned your relationship with food?

Do you ever wonder why we humans seem to be so unhealthy?

Most people eat to avoid hunger, because the food tastes good, for social reasons or to deal with difficult feelings.

The most important function of food, however, is the one we have lost touch with. Food is medicine.

Why Food Is Medicine

When I say that food is medicine, I mean that food sustains our life force or diminishes it, depending on what we eat, when we eat and the quality of the food. Food is the single greatest source of nourishment for our life force that we have. So poor food choices are a major factor in creating illness in our bodies.

Modern medicine does not give food the attention it deserves as a factor in our health. Food is not just something to put in our stomachs so it does not growl. Food is not just for fun, something to tickle the taste buds. Do you think that hospital food is helping you become healthy or increasing illness in your body?

How To Know Which Food Is Right For Us

Ayurveda has catalogued food so that we have the knowledge to eat food that helps us be healthy and at our best. It starts with the understanding that food is primarily medicine. One way to start understanding how food is medicine is to start with the Ayuvedic concept of six tastes.

The six tastes are a recognition of the subtle energies of food and how they impact the subtle energies of each person’s bioenergy or dosha. This is the information we need to select the foods that are best for our bodies. Ayurveda is as customized an approach to health as exists in the world. By understanding the subtle energies of each food, Ayurveda knows how to help an individual achieve optimum health.

According to Dr, Vasant Lad, an eminent Ayurvedic physician and teacher, Ayurveda has an integrated view of food. Many century ago, it started its knowledge gathering by investigating and cataloguing the qualities that each food has. This information was used to understand the six tastes of food which are tailored to each body type to create healthy eating.  There are 20 or 10 pairs of opposites:

  1. heavy or light
  2. oily or dry
  3. stable or mobile
  4. slimy or rough
  5. gross or subtle
  6. cold or hot
  7. slow or sharp
  8. soft or hard
  9. dense or liquid
  10. cloudy or clear

The Six Tastes And Why They Matter

Each food has certain qualities. These qualities have an affect on the doshas or bioenergies. What that means is that food affects not only the body but the mind and emotions as well since the doshas are holistic and include the mind and emotions as well as our physical constitutions.The six tastes are:

  1. sweet:  has the qualities of oily, cooling and heavy. In moderation it promotes a strong body and good health.  In excess, it increases congestion including colds, diabetes, obesity and tumors.
  2. sour: has the qualities of liquid, light, heating and oily.  In moderation, it is invigorating, and good for the digestive system.  In excess, it creates excessive acidity, heartburn, ulcers and various skin diseases like psoriasis and eczema.
  3. salty: has oily, heavy and heating qualities. In moderation it promotes growth and maintains water electrolyte balance.  It improves digestion and elimination and is so strong that it can overwhelm the other tastes.  In excess, it thickens the blood, and causes hypertension and aggravates skin conditions.
  4. pungent: has the qualities light, drying and heating.  In moderation, it helps digestion, and clears the mouth and sinuses.  It improves circulation and breaks up clots.  It removes obstructions and helps perception.  In excess it causes sexual debility, overheating, diarrhea, heartburn and nausea. In vata dosha, it causes giddiness tremors, insomnia which HSP’s need to be concerned about.
  5. bitter: has the qualities of cool, light and dry.  In moderation, it is anti-toxic, so it relieves heating conditions, skin diseases, and reduces fat.  In excess, depletes the various elements of the body including muscles, bones, and marrow and creates weariness.
  6. astringent: has the qualities of cooling, drying and heaviness. In moderation, it absorbs water, heals ulcers and causes clotting. In excess it can lead to neuromuscular disorders which HSP’s need to be concerned with, increases constipation, and circulatory issues.

This is a short overview of the qualities in food and how they affect the body. HSP’s can benefit from the Ayurvedic approach to food since it enables them to be more precise in their food choices and minimize inadvertent health problems caused from eating the wrong food.

The attributes and qualities of food affect the taste and the tastes can have a balancing or disturbing effect on an individual. If we are not eating the right foods for our bodies, we may be helping create depression, anxiety and other mood disorders in ourselves. We may make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. We may have trouble digesting the food and therefore become malnourished.

It is so important that we eat the right foods for ourselves in order to be healthy. By understanding our constitution, (see the Dosha Test), and what foods support us, we have a chance to experience great health with little effort.

Note:  Although some of the information comes from my own knowledge, many of the details were taken from the work of Usha Lad and Dr. Vasant Lad: Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing, The Ayurvedic Press, Albuquerque, 1994, 2002, p. 31-37.  His work provides even more detail about the Ayurvedic understanding of food and the elements and is an important book for individuals interested in Ayurveda.

Why Is Food Medicine?

tomatoes Creative Commons License photo credit: woodleywonderworks Why Is Food Medicine?

The simplest way to view food is to realize that everything you eat either supports your life force or it does not – either promotes health or disease.  Therefore when you eat anything processed, you are essentially consuming chemical toxins which disrupt the energy in the body.

Most of modern foodstuffs are created with convenience in mind, not health. Therefore, very little that we consume in the United States is healthy unless an individual makes a heroic effort to become informed and more effective at healthy nutrition.

Many people have heard that organically based nutrition is better for them. What many people may not realize however, that it is not enough just to eat vegetables because not all vegetables are good for you.  That may seem like heresy, but there is an important reason for this that Ayurveda has discovered.

The knowledge of food and the body is best found in the Indian health care system called Ayurveda.  Ayurveda is at least 5000 years old.  In India for thousands of years Ayurvedic experts have been working with and documenting the effect of all foods and herbs on the body and the individual body type constitutions.  Ayurveda makes nutrition recommendations on the basis of energetic usefulness – not fun, not convenience.

Taste is valued because it is a factor in creating balanced, healthy energy.  Therefore, an answer to the question why is food medicine is that each food has an energetic impact and eating foods that have the best energetic impact for your body is an important key to health. When an individual ignores energetic usefulness in their eating choices, they are adding stress to their body, because the body will be consuming a toxin, something that needs to be eliminated. The meal will be viewed by the body as an unnecessary tax, a harm. Eating for your body’s energetic needs is a easy way to minimize stress. Why is food medicine?  It is medicine, because the right nutritional energies will support and heal the body because they are life affirming.